David Gaughran

Authors Guild Dumps Author Solutions (And Pretends It Was All A Bad Dream)

30 May 2015

From David Gaughran:

The Authors Guild – which bills itself as America’s leading writers’ organization – has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.

The Authors Guild joins companies like Bowker, Writers’ Digest, and Crossbooks in cutting links to Author Solutions – a company which has faced a sustained campaign from writers targeting its deceptive and exploitative practices, as well as multiple class actions which are still working their way through the courts.

. . . .

The announcement was made yesterday at Book Expo America, but the Authors Guild decided to bury its own lede. No mention is made of Author Solutions, just a brief mention of the subsidiary which the Authors Guild was partnered with: iUniverse. If I hadn’t been waiting for this announcement, I would have missed it.

It’s almost as if the Authors Guild is trying to airbrush its partnership with Author Solutions from the history books. As if it was all just a bad dream.

. . . .

None of this stopped the Authors Guild renewing its partnership with Author Solutions in 2008, and again in 2011. As an organization purporting to represent its members best interests, surely it would have been aware of the terrible reputation of Author Solutions companies, and how much service levels at iUniverse had deteriorated. Was there another reason why the Authors Guild was so reluctant to terminate this partnership?

. . . .

If you want to verify any of this information, it has all now been wiped from the Authors Guild’s BackInPrint.com website… but the internet never forgets.

. . . .

Things get more bizarre the more you look around. BackInPrint.com had a humorous eligibility requirement. It would only publish work by Authors’ Guild members (understandable), and

Only books that have been previously published by an established U.S. publishing house (no vanity presses or self-published) are eligible.

Wut? That makes no sense at all! It’s like an Irish pub with a “No Irish” sign in the window.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Digging Deeper Into Author Earnings

27 May 2015

From Phoenix Sullivan via David Gaughran:

The Author Earnings team are attempting to do something which hasn’t been done before, and their work can’t be refined and improved unless there is some intelligent criticism of their approach and findings.

Today I’ve invited Phoenix Sullivan to blog on the topic. I’ve known Phoenix for a few years now, and if there’s a smarter person in publishing, I haven’t heard of them.

KBoards regulars will already know that Phoenix understands the inner workings of the Kindle Store better than anyone outside Amazon.

. . . .

I set aside some time recently to dive into the Author Earnings raw data for the May 1, 2015 Report. The irksome thing about the scraped data is how much of the puzzle that is Amazon’s ebook sales is missing and/or open to interpretative analysis. It isn’t the data’s fault or even the fault of the collection method. It’s simply that the data made public is limited, which in turn means a lot of creative interpretation goes into even so simple a task as coming up with the number of ebooks sold in a day. While the raw data itself isn’t changeable, different tools and assumptions applied to the data can yield different results, thereby opening up the analysis to differing interpretations.

My goal was to apply a set of tools and assumptions that update and possibly correct those being used by the Author Earnings team. The environment has changed dramatically in the 15 months since the first report came out, yet the analytical tools, in my opinion, haven’t necessarily kept up with the times. That in itself does not mean the results are wrong, but without a challenge to them, we’ll never know, right?

. . . .

By far the biggest assumptive correction I’ve made is two-fold: The first part is applying a new set of sales:rank calculations to the dataset and the second part is applying calculations to maintain ranks rather than using the multipliers needed to hit a rank. Let’s be clear that these multipliers are observed only, and best guesses across a lot of observations. However, I do believe the multipliers currently being used by AE are 1) outdated, and 2) don’t reflect the actual number of sales happening for the majority of books that are maintaining rank in the store and not seeing huge rank swings on a day-to-day basis.

. . . .

Amazon’s algorithms take historical sales – among other variables, such as velocity – into consideration when calculating rank. The longer a title remains around a given rank, the fewer sales it takes to maintain that rank. Observably, anywhere from 10-50% fewer sales. That means the multipliers for hitting ranks are not good indicators of unit sales numbers for the majority of books in the dataset. Here is my observed chart for average sales to maintain rank, along with the old and new numbers for hitting rank. More work needs to be done to fill in the upper brackets on the maintain side. I used the same numbers from my Sales to Hit chart when I felt I didn’t have enough data points on the Maintain side to chart new numbers in, but the safe assertion is that the Top 500 in my own data is over-reporting by a conservative 10%.

a1sales-rank
. . . .

Integrating KU into the reporting back in July dialed the difficulty of analyzing the data up into the stratosphere. Unread – and therefore unpaid – borrows influence rank across all titles. There’s no way to know how many borrows eventually become paid reads. And there’s no way to calculate how many units moved on any given title were at full price and how many were borrows, either paid or unpaid. Self-reported numbers suggest the split of paid sales to paid borrows is about 50:50 (which still doesn’t account for the unread borrows that inflate rank), which is what the AE Reports use as well. Using the Maintain chart above, I rejiggered all the numbers. The adjusted royalties may well still be inflated, but are, I think, a closer approximation. The difference for the dataset is a statistically significant 21.4% spread in dollars (or the $400 million difference between $1.81 and $1.42 billion per year):

  • $4,957,365 – original AE result for all earnings
  • $4,848,116 – AE results with the new modeling applied
  • $3,895,691 – my adjusted estimate

and for the KU amounts specifically:

  • $167,687 – AE results for borrows with the new modeling applied
  • $144,201 – my estimate
  • 252,161 – AE estimate for total number of KU units sold/borrowed using the Maintain calculations for Indies + Uncategorized
  • 216,410 – my estimate

. . . .

Since the AE Report looks at aggregated totals over individual sales and positions itself as one factor for authors to consider when deciding which path to publishing to pursue, I decided to see what each book averaged in each publishing path. There are pie charts below, but let’s also use words to be sure the picture is clear either way it’s expressed. If we look at gross sales, we see that the Big 5 had only about 50% of the number of titles available in the dataset than indies had. Big 5 books sold about 78% of the number of books indies sold and made more than twice as much. A lot of that goes into Publisher and Amazon pockets, but what does that really mean? The charts show that indie authors in aggregate earned about 25% more than Big 5 authors. In other words, it took almost 50% more available indie books to earn their authors 25% more than Big 5 authors.

. . . .

From the above, we can say that while market share may have eroded for the Big 5, gross sales plateau’d between Jan and May. Losing market share is not the same as bleeding money. Besides, the ebook market – discrete from the general publishing market – is relatively new. The Big 5 were never part of that market until it became lucrative enough to play in, and only once indies were invited into the market did it start to burgeon. Notbecause of indies, but the timing is inseparable. Big 5 never dominated the market, and a few deviation points here and there doesn’t mean it’s losing the market. And while percentage charts are pretty to look at, they don’t always describe an accurate picture. Ebooks, for instance, have lured a certain percentage of customers away from the used-books market. The Big 5 were not in the used-book market before and their models don’t include that market now.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to SFR and several others for the tip.

Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story

29 April 2015

From David Gaughran:

Author Solutions has forged partnerships with a long list of famous names in publishing – from Simon & Schuster and Hay House to Barnes & Noble and Reader’s Digest.

Recent disclosures in various lawsuits, along with information sent to me by a Penguin Random House source, detail for the very first time exactly how these partnerships work and the damage they are causing.

Since a second suit was filed at the end of March, Author Solutions is now facing two class actions, with the new complaint alleging unjust enrichment and exploitation of seniors on top of the usual claims of fraud and deceptive practices. It also has a wonderfully precise summary of Author Solutions’ operations:

Author Solutions operates more like a telemarketing company whose customer base is the Authors themselves. In other words, unlike a traditional publisher, Author Solutions makes money from its Authors, not for them. It does so by selling books back to its Authors, not to a general readership, and by selling its Authors expensive publishing, editing, and marketing services (“Services”) that are effectively worthless.

Indeed.

. . . .

Despite Author Solutions’ mounting legal troubles, and an unending stream of complaints against the company from both its own customers and a whole host of writers’ organizations and campaigners, companies are still queuing up to partner with Author Solutions.

Penguin Random House – its corporate parent – has shown no inclination towards reforming any of the deceptive and misleading practices of Author Solutions, or addressing any of the long-standing issues its customers face, handily summarized by Emily Suess as:

  • improperly reporting royalty information
  • non-payment of royalties
  • breach of contract
  • predatory and harassing sales calls
  • excessive markups on review and advertising services
  • failure to deliver marketing services as promised
  • telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars
  • ignoring customer complaints
  • shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories.

Instead of making any attempt to tackle that list, Penguin Random House has focused oninternational expansion of Author Solutions, a process which has also seen the re-introduction of practices which had previously been banished from the industry, like reading fees.

. . . .

Below is a partial list of the publishing companies which have partnered with Author Solutions to create their own in-house “self-publishing service,” but it gives you an idea of just how many supposedly respectable publishers are willing to profit from exploiting inexperienced writers.

The name of the respective service – or what Author Solutions refers to as a “Partner Imprint” – is in brackets.

  • Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing)
  • Lulu
  • Harlequin (DelleArte Press) – partnership terminated 2015
  • Hay House (Balboa US, Balboa Australia)
  • Barnes & Noble (Nook Press Author Services)
  • Crossbooks (LifeWay) – partnership terminated 2014
  • Penguin (Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa)
  • HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson/Zondervan (Westbow Press)
  • Random House (MeGustaEscribir)
  • Writer’s Digest (Abbott Press) – partnership terminated 2014

Some of these companies go to great lengths to hide the Author Solutions connection (Lulu, Barnes & Noble, and Crossbooks being pretty famous examples), and customers of these platforms often aren’t aware that services are being fulfilled by Author Solutions – yet another reason, if one is needed, why victims shouldn’t be blamed.

. . . .

Author Solutions pitches its services to publishers as a way of monetizing the slush pile, offering what it calls “white-label services” to these organizations – which essentially means that Author Solutions will provide the entire infrastructure for their “self-publishing service” and operate it on their behalf too.

. . . .

These relationships are crucial to Author Solutions, as it doesn’t get organic referrals – i.e. for obvious reasons, writers aren’t recommending its services and Author Solutions has severe problems with customer retention.

Aside from providing a false veneer of respectability to Author Solutions’ operations, the only role that the partnering publisher plays is to provide “leads” to Author Solutions, and then sit back and collect the royalty checks. In short, these publishers are pimping out their brand as bait for the Author Solutions scam.

. . . .

The relevant points regarding partners are:

  • Partner Imprints provide identical services, but often with higher prices. For example, the exact same book review package – Kirkus Premium – costs $5,999 from iUniverse and $6,999 from Archway.
  • These higher prices are necessary to cover, in part, the royalty payment to partners.
  • The balance is made up via higher quotas assigned to sales reps responsible for Partner Imprints.

. . . .

The sales force employed by Author Solutions is considerable. Most (approximately 80%) are based in the Philippines, despite deliberately giving the impression they are based in the US. Also, they aren’t identified as sales reps to Author Solutions customers, instead they are dubbed “Marketing Consultants,” “Book Consultants,” or “Publishing Consultants.”

Publishing Consultants are the first to deal with authors, advising them which publishing package to purchase. The only way that Author Solutions measures the performance of Publishing Consultants is the total dollar value of packages sold, so these sales reps are only incentivized to sell the most expensive package possible. If the customer can’t afford a given package, a payment plan is offered.

. . . .

Book Consultants are introduced to Author Solutions customers as the people who will help fulfill the “free” order of books that comes with their publishing packages, but their true role is to convince the author to place an additional order for further copies of their books, beyond the small amount that comes free with some of the publishing packages. From Author Solutions own figures released when looking for a buyer in 2012, we know that two thirds of its revenue comes from selling publishing and marketing packages, and one third from selling books. What wasn’t known until the depositions of Author Solutions executives were made public is that the vast majority of those book sales are authors purchasing their own books.

. . . .

According to a source at Penguin Random House, Author Solutions employs 594 sales reps in its Philippines office, and 138 in its US office, making a total of 732 staff members whose primary role is to sell products to its own customers.

This is in stark contrast to the amount of people dedicated to actually providing basic services to its customers – services which Author Solutions has a duty to provide.

. . . .

A recurring complaint from Author Solutions customers is that the company fails to fulfill purchased services, and also fails to fulfill basic services included in the publishing packages (allegations which are repeated in the class actions).

An example should illustrate why these complaints are so common. A frequent claim is that royalty payments are often delayed, incomplete, or wholly inaccurate – a situation further compounded by abysmal customer service when complaints are made.

You might imagine that calculating the respective royalties for the 180,000 authors and 225,000 titles which Author Solutions has published is a tricky task, especially given that these titles are distributed in several different formats to a large list of retail outlets, many of whom operate in different territories and currencies and pay out a different percentage based on a whole range of factors, including price.

This is how many staff Author Solutions employs to calculate royalties for all those authors and titles: 1.

That’s not a typo, there is one single person to calculate royalties for 180,000 authors and 225,000 titles. One person! And 732 sales reps with aggressive quotas to sell worthless crap like “web optimized” press releases for $1,299, YouTube advertising packages for $4,099, and Hollywood pitching services for $17,999.

. . . .

Staff turnover is a problem in general at Author Solutions, but particularly for the position of the poor person who has to calculate royalties for 225,000 books from 180,000 authors. I’m told that it’s lucky if this staff member can get through two payment quarters without quitting in sheer frustration – which means that a new person has to be regularly trained in, and is always playing catch-up.

. . . .

Among those refusing to comment was Publishers Weekly and I suspect its partnership with Author Solutions runs far deeper than simply allowing it to re-sell blocks of advertising.

. . . .

Obviously, having a financially lucrative partnership with Author Solutions acts as a strong disincentive [for Publishers Weekly] to run an exposé of its shady practices, but there are other factors in play. Author Solutions is owned by the largest trade publisher in the world and Penguin Random House’s advertising spend is considerable.

Penguin Random House has also been actively suppressing the Author Solutions story. One investigation I have knowledge of was supposed to be published in April 2014, but the editor in question decided to kill the story at the last moment.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to John and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Fighting With Both Hands

18 April 2015

From author David Gaughran:

My goals and dreams have changed a lot since I started self-publishing in 2011. I haven’t been a big success, but I’ve been able to tick off little career milestones along the way. Some months my sales are wonderful, some months they are terrible – generally a function of how long it is since I released or promoted something. Overall, the good months more than outweigh the bad and I’ve been scratching out a living for a while now.

Dream: achieved.

But, as all writers know, the sales maw is insatiable. I’ve been noodling ways to take my career to the next level.

I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the publishing/marketing side of things, but I’m still serving my apprenticeship as a writer – especially as a writer of fiction. Non-fiction comes naturally to me. I find it quicker and easier and (much) less of a brain-melting puzzle. Whereas, fiction is much more of a challenge – probably why I find it ultimately more satisfying.

. . . .

Simon asked why I wrote all over the map: short stories, science fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, and asked if that was something I would recommend to others.

I believe my reply was something like “Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha… no” before comparing it to fighting with one hand behind your back.

If you look at my output since I started self-publishing it’s, eh, a bit of a mess. I first published a pair of short stories which could be classified as literary fiction, or weird fiction, or slipstream, or whatever. Next was a meatier SF short. Then a book for writers. That was followed by a historical novel more towards the “literary” end of the spectrum. Then another book for writers. Next, I spent quite a bit of time on a dystopian project that ultimately got shelved. After that, another historical novel, but this one was more towards the “action/adventure” end of the spectrum. And so on.

. . . .

I think this is a phase a lot of writers go through – maybe it’s something they need to get out of their system. Most seem to do it at the start, before they find their groove, but we’ve all seen successful authors walk away from a cash cow to write something totally unrelated, and then return to the series/genre that was making them money (when the side-project – as is often the case – generates underwhelming sales).

. . . .

It was time for a wake-up call, which came in the form of a speech Bella Andre delivered at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, where she explained how she went from kind of treading water in traditional publishing to being a multi-million selling self-publisher.

The fascinating part was that she actually sat down and analyzed the market and concluded that (a) most mega-selling authors had a long-running series, (b) often didn’t hit that crazy breakout level of success until as late as the fifth book in a series, and (c) publishers didn’t like offering longer than two- or three-book deals (and, obviously, cut authors loose if the numbers weren’t amazing, or asked them to start a new series, or new pen-name, or whatever).

Bella Andre concluded, if memory serves, that she was going to write a five-book series and self-publish it. Or maybe it was eight books. Either way, the rest is history.

Her new series was an astonishing success and I think it’s up to ten or eleven books now.

. . . .

A light bulb went off (on?) in my head, especially when Bella advised finding the overlap between what you like to write, and what sells. I decided to try sketching out a series that was a little more commercial but still satisfied me creatively. I don’t really mean that in an overly arty sense – it’s more that I can lose focus if I’m not engaged with the idea (see: any number of abandoned WIPs on my hard drive).

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Three Books

24 March 2015

From author David Wake:

At the end of the film The Time Machine, Filby and the Housekeeper realise that three books are missing from the shelf.  They have been taken into the future!

There’s a scheme by Porcupine Books at the next Eastercon for people to give a short talk on a book that has influenced them.  I’m one of the writers due to whiffle on about a book, but not one of the following three.

. . . .

What are [three books that influenced my life], I wonder.

I think they are The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, Introduction to Pascal (Second Edition) by Jim Welsh and John Elder and Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran.  It’s rather an odd collection now I write it down.

The Day of the Triffids is also rather a stand-in.  I could have chosen The Chrysalides, also by Wyndham, or any number of others.  I trying to recall that book that got me into Science Fiction, but I’m not sure I remember it or that there even was one.

. . . .

On the other hand, Introduction to Pascal was the manual of a life change.  I went to University to do Civil Engineering – mad idea, what was I thinking – and I realised my enormous mistake about four weeks into the course.  Somewhere I have the very fluid mechanics test that left me high and dry, and pushed me over the edge and into deep water – as it were.  I turned the page over and made notes on the back as I went through the University prospectus to find an alternative course, any alternative course.  So, after Anthropology, Astrology, Astronomy, Biology and Carpentry had all turned me down, Computer Science was next in the alphabet.  They accepted me on a Friday to start the following Monday.  I was four weeks behind, I panicked.

. . . .

During the first workshop on programming, we were given twelve questions and I was hopelessly stuck on Question 6.  You can’t turn a computer round and make notes on the back about Cover Design, Drama, Education or English Language.  (As if I’d do any of those.)  Oh god, I thought, I have just wasted my life.

I turned to one of my brand new colleagues and whispered, “I’m stuck on Question 6 – help!”

“What!” they replied, “but we’re all stuck on Question 2.”

I love programming in Pascal, still do, even though it’s now hidden in an IDE called Lazarus.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran did change my life.

. . . .

We got chatting, I started to give him lifts home and he said I should self-publish.

“Oh, but isn’t that vanity publishing.”

“No, not at all, read this ebook by David Gaughran.”

So I did.  Interesting, I thought.  By page 5, I thought I must get a Kindle one day; by page 10, it was on my Christmas list; by page 15, I’d ordered one and by page 20, I was coding in html.  My conversation from occasional playwright to committed indie publisher was faster than someone with a road map to Damascus asking for a bit of light to read by.

Link to the rest at Write Click and thanks to Andy for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Wake’s books

Bay Area Book Festival Defends Author Solutions Sponsorship

21 March 2015

From David Gaughran:

I discovered yesterday that Author Solutions was sponsoring the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival – something at odds with the breathless verbiage on the event’s site:

A new kind of book fair… the largest, most innovative, and most inclusive… [we will] create the nation’s leading book festival.

The event doesn’t take place until June, so I thought it was a good time to try and stage an intervention.

After I sent that tweet I felt a little bad.

Maybe the organizers didn’t know the full history of Author Solutions. Maybe they weren’t aware of the specific scam that Author Solutions runs at events like this. Deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt, I emailed the Executive Director of the festival, Cherilyn Parsons.

. . . .

I sent Parsons an email giving her the full background. I explained how Author Solutions was universally reviled in the writing community, why every major writers’ organization and watchdog group warned authors against using the company, and that Author Solutions was facing a class action for deceptive practices.

I also detailed the way Author Solutions uses its presence at events like this to ensnare new customers and milk existing ones – a common ploy being to sell off one-hour book signing slots for prices up to $4,000 (or up to $10,000 via Archway).

And it was a complete waste of my time.

In their response, The Bay Area Book Festival explained the “logic” behind accepting Author Solutions as a sponsor.

. . . .

  1. Everyone else has their nose in the trough.

Cherilyn Parsons admitted that whether to accept Author Solutions’ money was a “thorny question” but she decided to take the lead of several other festivals:

…such as the Miami Book Fair International, the LA Times Festival of Books and the Tucson Festival of Books. All have been very generous in sharing their expertise. All of them accept Author Solutions as an exhibitor.

How curious that Parsons would only seek guidance from these three festivals – which are very much in the minority when it comes to accepting dirty money from Author Solutions.

. . . .

  1. We didn’t want to make Penguin Random House mad.

This was a real doozy.

Cherilyn Parsons’ exact words:

Author Solutions is part of Penguin Random House, which has been very supportive of the Bay Area Book Festival in sending authors, [and this] led to my decision to accept Author Solutions at the Bay Area Book Festival.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to TPV for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

How To Win Sales And Influence Algorithms

3 February 2015

From David Gaughran:

I’m hosting a discussion today between two authors who are using creative ways to share audiences, something which has the happy side-effect of increasing their respective sales.

. . . .

Traditionally published authors may have to compete with each other ways that may not be relevant/important to self-publishers – like agents, deals, grants, prizes, or co-op. But self-publishers have nothing to fear from cooperating with authors they arenominally competing with, and everything to gain.

The market is so large that no writer will ever reach all the readers out there, and the odds of getting noticed can improve greatly with the right kind of cooperation – as many authors with box sets saw last year.

If you are still skeptical, consider this: Amazon’s recommendation engine can drive sales like nothing else. The Also Boughts (the strip of other titles under your book on its Amazon page) are central to that recommendation engine in ways that we only partly understand. What we do know is that they are key influences on all those emails which are sent to Amazon customers.

Did you ever have an unexplained bump in sales that couldn’t be tracked to a mention somewhere? There’s a reasonable chance you started appearing in the Also Boughts of a popular title in your genre, and then your book suddenly got recommended by email to a bunch of new readers in your target audience.

. . . .

Savvy authors are now pooling audiences in an attempt to influence their Also Boughts and get Amazon’s system to recommend their books to each other’s audiences. I noticed crime/thriller writers Matt Iden and Nick Stephenson doing this in interesting ways over the last few months, and invited them to spill the beans.

. . . .

Matt: So, some background. I first looked into what you were doing after I finally noticed the cover of your perma-free novel Wanted in my also-boughts. In retrospect, it was like the 29th time I’d seen it. Your covers are very distinctive and the branding is strong and consistent—no accident, I know—and something deep in my reptilian brain told me, You’ve seen this before. Maybe you should click on it?

Nick: Yeah, you know what they say: “twenty-nine times is the charm”. My marketing strategy revolves around annoying people until they buy. It seems to come naturally.

Matt: So I followed the trail to your author page, where your list of blog posts were about experiments in promoting, marketing, and unraveling the mysteries of Amazon placement and rankings. It was obvious you were using some different approaches, especially when it came to increasing discoverability in non-traditional ways.

. . . .

Nick: Damn straight. But I reckon, ask any “hobbyist” if they’d like to sell a few more books, I’m pretty sure they’d be happy to. I’ve spent the last couple of years figuring out what works, and the answer is gob-smackingly simple.

Get content. Tell people about content.

The “telling people” part is where most people struggle. But a lot of the work I’m doing with authors right now is helping them build up better ways to communicate with readers direct – rather than relying on Amazon and advertisers. And the results have been pretty incredible.

Matt: One particular thing that caught my eye was when you compiled some preliminary findings in a PDF report you shared (that probably formed the basis for your guide Supercharge Your Kindle Sales, which I was happy to blurb). It filled in a lot of gaps for me on keyword selection, rankings, and some other juicy bits I hadn’t seen treated quite that way anywhere else. I promptly told all of my blog people to go follow you and that really started our collaboration.

Nick: That was pretty cool of you! Putting together “Supercharge” was a lot of fun – it was cool to see two-years’ worth of experience jump out of my brain and onto the page. I was in the zone for a few days with that book. And I still get emails from people who’ve had great results, so it’s definitely been worth it from that perspective.

. . . .

Matt: Back to the collaboration, thing–this may be blindingly obvious, but self-pubbers are in a perfect position to treat other writers as collaborators, not competitors, considering the low price-point of most self-published books. This is especially clear when best-selling indies can sell a boxed set of twelve books for $.99. Traditionally published writers don’t have this advantage.

Nick: I think it’s from that old-school mentality that a trad-pub’s main audience is the casual / bestseller reader. The kind of people that pick up the latest Dan Brown in the airport, but won’t read anything else all year. I think the self-pubbers REAL advantage is that we understand we need to reach readers direct, and not just deal with publishers and agents. That shift in mentality puts us in our customers’ shoes. We know what our readers want, and we give it to them. THAT’S our killer advantage.

. . . .

Nick: Yeah, always. I think what’s good for one author is going to be good for everyone. Getting more people reading is the aim for me, even if they’re not my books! So, if I have a month where I’m not promoting anything, I’ll recommend other authors’ work that I think my readers will enjoy. I’m not “losing” sales. I’m building trust and connections.

Matt: A natural extension of that was to run some promotions together. I think the first was a coordinated email blast to our respective newsletters…at the time that meant about , what? 4,000 people saw both of our sale books? And you threw in an e-Ink Kindle reader to sweeten the pot.

Nick: Right. We sold 352 books from that email – and many of the people we emailed actually already owned copies. So that was a great result. Actually, apart from Bookbub, that’s a better result than pretty much any advertiser I can think of – and we didn’t have to pay anyone or jump through any hoops.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Anthea for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books, Matt Iden’s books and Nick Stephenson’s books

Author Solutions Steps Up Global Expansion, Penguin Random House Integration

21 November 2014

From David Gaughran:

Penguin Random House is speeding up the international expansion of its vanity press operations, while also seeking to integrate them more closely with the traditional side of the business – hoping to counteract flat growth for Author Solutions at a time when self-publishing is booming.

Author Solutions launches a new self-publishing service company for the Spanish market next Tuesday – MeGustaEscribir – which contains the usual mix of crappy publishing packages and ineffective, overpriced marketing services, as well as some extremely questionable practices such as reading fees (more on that below).

. . . .

How Author Solutions Squeezes Newbie Writers

Customers are captured through a variety of deceptive means – such as fake “independent” websites which purport to review all the self-publishing options available to writers (but only compare the various Author Solutions imprints); fake social media profiles pretending to be writers or “publishing consultants” (who only recommend Author Solutions companies); and, a “bounty” to various unscrupulous parties to deliver Author Solutions fresh blood.

Obviously, Author Solutions needs to use such deceptive measures because authors who have used its services aren’t recommending it to their fellow writers. Instead, they are warning them away.

Once Author Solutions has a writer’s contact details, it moves fast – endlessly harassing them by phone and email until they cave and purchase an overpriced publishing package. When the publishing process is almost complete, an Author Solutions sales rep then contacts the writer to let them know some exciting news: they have won a fake award – invented by Author Solutions.

The catch is this. To receive the award, the writer must purchase one of Author Solutions wholly unsuitable, completely ineffective, and crazily priced marketing packages.

. . . .

Using high-pressure sales tactics, and careful targeting of the most inexperienced and vulnerable writers, Author Solutions squeezes an average of over $5,000 out of its customers, who then go on to average sales of just 150 copies (from Author Solutions’ own figures) – obviously coming nowhere close to recouping that staggering outlay, despite the accompanying overblown promises from Author Solutions sales reps.

. . . .

This new Spanish imprint from Author Solutions also continues the trend of very close integration with the local Penguin Random House operation – one aspect of the merger and subsequent reorganization that doesn’t receive any attention in the trade press.

. . . .

This strategy of closer integration was flagged long in advance. When Penguin Random House Chairman John Makinson appointed company man Andrew Philips as CEO of Author Solutions in May 2013, he said that “a new chief executive from within Penguin would connect the business more closely to Penguin’s curated publishing activities.”

This shows how central Penguin Random House views author scamming to its future. Partridge India shares offices with Penguin Random House India, and touts its connections to its parent company all the time. The other two international imprints launched since the Penguin purchase – Partridge Singapore and Partridge Africa – are also keen to highlight the Penguin Random House connection. And all three Partridge imprints disingenuously dangle the possibility of a traditional publishing contract in front of newbie authors to get them to sign with Author Solutions.

. . . .

MeGustaEscribir goes one step beyond, firmly embracing an unethical practice which had been consigned to the dustbin of publishing history: reading fees.

Heavily touted on the MeGustaEscribir site is the Recognition Program – where customers will be recommended for review by an editor from Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

. . . .

Here’s the really shocking part. Consideration by a Penguin Random House editor is contingent on writers undergoing an Editorial Evaluation Report by MeGustaEscribir. The only publishing packages which contain this Evaluation Report are priced at 2,899 Euro (approx $3,600) and 3,999 Euro (approx $4,970).

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Jim for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Aiming for the NYT Best Seller List

9 November 2014

From David Gaughran:

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week – with no wifi! – you are probably aware we released The Indie Author Power Pack on Monday, with the aim of hitting the New York Times Best Seller list.

We won’t know the result until next week, but I’ve had a few tweets and emails asking how we were doing, so I thought I’d give you an update.

Before that, if you somehow missed the blanket promo we have been conducting, The Indie Author Power Pack is a stonking deal – only 99c – and contains three top rated writer’s guides.

. . . .

The box set has been selling extremely strongly since it went up for pre-order and Joanna Penn got the ball rolling on her blog. I stepped up to the plate the following Tuesday, then Sean, Johnny & Dave put their shoulder to the wheel a couple of days later, and then we allrecorded a podcast last Friday.

I don’t have access to the exact figures, but I think we had around 3,000 pre-orders before it actually went live this Monday. So far so good.

This week, we went wider with our marketing. We had a number of ads on reader sites, lots of guest posts in key venues – the Kobo Writing Life blog, Joe Konrath’s blog, a week-long series of posts from all of us on the Nook Press Blog (see sidebar for individual posts) – and a huge number of authors sharing on social media, blogging about the box, and even hitting their own mailing lists.

. . . .

But when you drill down on those numbers, and factor in the particular quirks of the NYTlist, the challenge ahead of us becomes apparent.

Out of those 5,499 sales, not all are countable in terms of the NYT. For example, the box set has been doing particularly well in Canada but those sales obviously don’t count towards NYT placement. There are 981 such sales from non-US Kindle Stores, which reduces the countable total down to 4,518.

That total, at this point in the week, is still pretty strong versus what I think will be needed. But that’s not the biggest challenge we face.

One of the quirks of the NYT list is that they completely disregard books which only have sales from a single vendor.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to The Indie Author Power Pack, still only 99 cents.

What’s Next for Authors United?

22 October 2014

From David Gaughran:

Authors United has been spectacularly unsuccessful in its supposed mission to get Amazon and Hachette to agree a deal.

By contrast, Simon & Schuster was able to agree a deal in just three weeks – without the intervention of Douglas Preston’s group.

To be fair, Authors United has been very good at one thing: getting media attention.

Perhaps it’s time for Douglas Preston to widen the aims of the group and start campaigning on issues which actually matter.

It would be great if Authors United could get the media to focus on any of these problems. Alternatively, Authors United could continue to focus on propping up a broken system which only rewards those at the very top (like Douglas Preston, surprisingly).

1. Diversity in Publishing

Publishing is very white and very middle class. And, at the upper echelons, often very male too. One of the many knock on effects of this is that traditionally published books tend to be very white and very middle class. Publishing claims to want more diverse books from more diverse voices, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until more people from diverse backgrounds are representing authors and acquiring books.

2. One-sided Contracts

Contracts offered by publishers can contain awful clauses. Option clauses which unfairly tie authors’ hands. Reversion clauses which are meaningless in a POD/digital world where books never go out of print. And non-compete clauses which can pointlessly damage a writer’s career.

Some say that a good agent will negotiate those out. My experience of talking to fellow writers is that it’s often the case that even good agents can fail to negotiate these out because they don’t want to damage their relationship with the publisher. But, really, these clauses should form no part of any boilerplate. Agents shouldn’t have to negotiate them out because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. And the upsurge in digital-first imprints taking unagented submissions means this is a growing problem.

. . . .

6. Author Exploitation

The most unwelcome development in the last few years has been the huge increase in author exploitation. What’s particularly distasteful about this phenomenon is that the most predatory companies are not the fly-by-night operations of the past, but huge corporations exploiting writers on a massive scale. Oh and they are owned and operated by traditional publishers, happy to profit from this crap.

Penguin Random House bought Author Solutions two years ago and, instead of cleaning house, it has aggressively expanded its scammy operations. HarperCollins, Harlequin, Simon & Schuster, and Hay House are just some of the traditional publishers with exploitative vanity press operations being run on their behalf by Author Solutions. This is completely unacceptable. And instead of getting worked up about what Amazon might do in the future, I respectfully suggest that you should focus on what publishers are doing right now to authors.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to T.M. for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

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